Monday, March 16, 2009

Joining the Great Debate: Linux vs. Windows

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WXPNews: Your Source for all things XP
Vol. 8, #62 - Mar 17, 2009 - Issue #370

 Joining the Great Debate: Linux vs. Windows

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Joining the Great Debate: Linux vs. Windows
    • Follow-up: XP to Windows 7 Upgrade Path
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • XP free support deadline is coming up fast
    • Social Desktop: Is this the future of computing?
    • Samsung says SSDs will be as cheap as traditional hard drives
    • How to customize the volume controls in XP
  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • How to customize the volume controls in XP
  5. XP Security News
    • Conflicker keeps on coming - and getting nastier all the time
  6. XP Question Corner
    • System Restore quit working
  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • Explorer.exe command line options
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • Registry First Aid 7.0 - New Release Is Faster, Safer and Even More Effective

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 Editor's Corner

Joining the Great Debate: Linux vs. Windows

There's been quite a debate raging over on TechRepublic. First, Jack Wallen published this article titled "10 Reasons Why Linux will Triumph over Windows":

Then Kris Littlejohn countered that with a follow-up article titled "10 Reasons Why Linux isn't Triumphing over Windows":

Then Jack came back with a "rebuttal to the rebuttal" here:

Now, I tried to stay out of it because I realize I'm biased on several different levels. First, I make my living in large part by writing about Microsoft products. And secondly, Kris is my son. But hey, when it comes to the OS wars, everybody is biased, one way or the other - and I just can't let some of the statements in the "rebutting the rebuttal" article go unchallenged.

First Jack asks "Why do you find it necessary to compare apples to apples and use paid Linux?" Well, it beats comparing apples to oranges. But the fact is, Kris used Red Hat Enterprise Linux as the basis of comparison in the server space because, face it - the majority of companies are not going to run their mission critical applications on unsupported software. Sure, a small business might throw up a non-critical web site on a computer running a free distro, but when your livelihood depends on your network, you want somebody to call when things go wrong.

With the free distros, you're on your own. Unless you have a few *NIX experts on staff, that's a pretty lonely place to be. The question isn't whether free distros are "qualified to handle the job." The question is whether businesses are willing to give them that job. Linux has indeed increased its server market share - but much of that is coming from businesses that are transitioning from UNIX, rather than from Windows. And more importantly, most of those Linux servers are running paid versions of Linux like RHEL or Novell SuSE.

Kris's cost comparisons were based on current Windows server offerings. Something else to take into account is the new version of Windows Server that Microsoft plans to release soon, called Foundation Server. It's a low-cost option that will reportedly support all key Windows Server roles except Hyper-V, and according to Paul Thurrott is expected to sell for around $200.

One thing I really have to take issue with is this statement: "For every good version of Windows Microsoft puts out they put out 1 or 2 horrendous versions. And who knows what problems 7 is going to cause." I've been in the tech biz for quite a while. Most folks liked MS-DOS pretty well. The first version of Windows might have been somewhat primitive, but Windows 3.1 and 3.11 were exceedingly popular. And Windows 95 was a huge hit. Windows 98 was also a solid improvement, although a much less dramatic one. Windows ME was a flop, but Windows 2000 made great strides and Windows XP is now everybody's darling. Vista didn't do so well on the market, thanks in large part to Apple's clever (albeit largely untruthful) commercials, but Windows 7 is being eagerly adopted even before being officially released. I count two operating systems in the bunch that could arguably be considered "horrendous versions" by some - that's hardly two out of three.

Where's the evidence that Windows 7 is likely to cause a bunch of problems? In fact, it solves most of the problems that made Vista unpopular, such as the "in your face" aspect of UAC, and makes many everyday computing tasks much easier.

Jack also says that "The only area where more software is available is games." Yet one of the main reasons I hear from readers who have tried Linux and come back to Windows was "I couldn't use the applications I want." Sure, there are comparable apps - but they're not the same. That cheap store brand of toilet paper does the same thing as the more expensive brand name, too - but it doesn't feel the same. OpenOffice is great, for a free program. But it's not the same as Office. Too many users want the real thing: Office, PhotoShop, etc., not reasonable facsimiles. And yes, you can run Windows applications on Linux using WINE, but if you go to the web site, you see this message on the front page: "Wine is still under development, and it is not yet suitable for general use." Are you telling me the typical end-user won't be scared off by that?

Then we have the GUI issue. Jack says he would have bought the user-friendliness argument five years ago, but not today. Okay. But then when it comes to security, he acknowledges that current Microsoft operating systems are secure but then says "but Linux, from the start, was more secure than Windows." Okay, either the past matters, or it doesn't. If Linux's past usability problems aren't relevant today, then neither are Windows' past security problems. Fair enough?

Jack also asks "What aspect of GNOME, Xfce, KDE and even E17 is harder to use than the Windows desktop?" That question itself points up another problem with Linux for the typical consumer. Linux is basically a kernel rather than an operating environment like Windows. You can pick the GUI you like - but this can cause problems for developers because the interfaces are different. And although techie types like having these choices, the average user is only confused by them.

Which brings us to another point that Kris didn't bring up, but should have. One of the biggest complaints about Windows Vista - and one of the very few complaints about Windows 7 - has to do with too many choices. Microsoft offers four basic editions of Vista that are available at retail (the Starter and Enterprise editions are available only to emerging markets and companies with volume licenses, respectively). And most consumers will tell you that's at least two too many. They don't want a bunch of different versions to choose from. Now take a look at the number of Linux distributions there are out there. According to DistroWatch, there are at least 322 different distros:

If end users are confused and frustrated by the number of Vista editions, just imagine how they feel when faced with all those Linux choices. As Alexander Wolfe put it back in 2007, "Linux is a forking mess."

In the end, the numbers speak for themselves. When it comes to the consumer market, there has to be a reason Windows has a whopping 91% of the desktop market share. If Linux doesn't cost anything, and if it's true that Linux is now just as easy to install and use as Windows, and given the awful press that Vista got, why aren't people going out and downloading Linux in droves and installing it on their desktops and laptops? Why is it that instead a small percentage are switching to Macs, which are generally even more expensive than Windows, or in the vast majority of cases, those who feel compelled to switch are going back to Windows XP?

How do you feel? Do you think the triumph of Linux over Windows is imminent and inevitable? Will the economic downturn give "free" Linux the boost it needs? Have you used Linux yourself, and do you consider it to be just as user friendly as Windows? Have you installed it? Was that a quick and simple process or did you have problems finding drivers for all of your devices? Are you satisfied with the applications that are available for Linux? Do you think the huge number of Linux distributions helps or hurts it in gaining market share? Would you run your business on free software, with no support from the software maker? Tell us what you think at

Follow-up: XP to Windows 7 Upgrade Path

In last week's editorial, we discussed an issue that has been popping up a lot lately among both IT pros who support companies using XP on the desktop and individuals who have stuck with XP but anticipate moving up to Windows 7: should Microsoft provide a direct upgrade path? We got a lot of reader response to that question.

Ken C. said, "The direct upgrade from XP to 7 is definitely preferable to me. If they really want to tick off the disappointed Vista users (I have one - don't like the way it works + crashes all the time), they will leave us marooned on XP Island. They may think we can swim home, by way of nearby Vista Island, but most of us casual (spell that non-geek) users really cannot. We are not (technically+ financially) fit enough for the swim."

John H. agrees: "I think that Microsoft should provide an upgrade path for XP users. After all Microsoft decided to "tone down" the push for consumers to upgrade to Vista because of real or unreal issues. The big push for Vista to the consumer (TV ads), really just started the end of 2008 and now they want us to upgrade to Windows7. I'm an XP user, and I had just started to think about upgrading to Vista, but now I want to wait for W7. I'm not going to want to pay 2 upgrades fees, no matter how small, just to get W7."

Roger wrote: "Yes, yes, & yes! Why should we be forced to buy an inferior product in order to get one that works? If it is not provided it will result in another push toward Apple." Let me make something clear as I'm not sure everyone understands: you can always install a "clean" copy of Windows 7 without having to buy a Vista license, and you will get the upgrade pricing on Windows 7 if you have a valid XP license. The only issue is if you want to do an "in place" upgrade over your current operating system.

Some folks do understand that, and still feel strongly that the in-place upgrade should be supported. Sandra D. said, "I think Microsoft should provide a pathway for XP users to upgrade to XP 7 without having to do a new installation. It is just too hard to do a new installation. You have to back up all your files and folders, Most computer users wouldn't do that. It is a task that requires a lot of time, and in the process the computer user loses a lot of data. The upgrade should be in the Microsoft Updates site." Dennis H. has a different idea: "The one thing that no one seems to be talking about in the upgrade from XP to Windows 7 is the 64-bit OS. We have had 64-bit processors from both Intel and AMD in our PC's for years. Are we ever going to move off the 32-bit OS and experience the vast amounts of memory that are possible with 64 bits? To move from 32-bit XP to 64-bit Win 7 will require a clean install. Microsoft should skip the XP to Win 7 upgrade path and maybe more people will "bite the bullet" and move to the 64-bit version of Windows 7."

And Steve M. offers this reasoning: "To be blunt--NO. I have both OS's and I really like Xp better than I do Vista, but my understanding of trying to get Vista to run on old equipment designed for XP is a stretch, and Windows 7 is just 'Vista done Right', so it is going to be a nightmare to try and get it to run on the old equipment."

Quite a few of you plan to upgrade to Windows 7 and keep XP. Charlie R. said, "I will add a new hard drive for 7 and keep my XP in the same machine as a secondary drive and choose between the two as needed."

And there are those of you who don't plan to upgrade at all. Jay wrote, "I will stay with XP. I've tried Windows 7 and hated it." But Will B. takes the opposite view: "Let XP die... folks need to move on. There is no way one can make any claim that XP can be made as safe as Vista or the newer Win7. Last Friday I installed Win 7 on an Acer Aspire One. I did tear it apart and put a larger HD in as well as bumping the memory up to 1.5 GB. Total cost to me was $299 for the Netbook from Costco, $25 for the memory, the hard drive (250GB Seagate) was an extra one lying about. With it that cheap... why would I want or be content with XP Home?"

For some of you, it really doesn't matter. Kenneth F. had this to say: "My OS "upgrades," with only one exception, have always been by replacing the computer, then transferring data and some applications. That one exception was when I upgraded from MS-DOS 3.21 to MS-DOS 5.0, keeping the hardware and applications just the same. That was a long time ago ... Because of this, I don't really care if Microsoft provides a direct upgrade path from Windows XP to Windows 7. I'll do a clean installation anyway. And what I'll end up with is another multi-boot job. I really like having a choice of operating systems in the same box."

Kathy M. follows a similar strategy: "I have never installed an upgrade. I use the computer I have until it crashes and then I buy a new one and it has the latest OS installed ... I think Microsoft should have and upgrade from Vista but use a disclaimer that they don't recommend it for 'optimal performance.' Then if someone upgrades and has a hard time with it they have been warned."

E.D. wrote, "The overwhelming majority of Windows XP consumer users didn't feel the urgency to upgrade to Vista. Without a compelling reason to do so, XP users won't feel the urgency to lose all of their data and do a clean Windows 7 install." Let me say this loudly and clearly: there is no reason for you to lose all of your data when you do a clean install. You should be backing up your data regularly anyway, but if you don't, you can certainly take the time to back it up before installing a new OS.

Sure, it takes a little time and effort, but Bob put it very well when he said, "Doing clean OS installs is, in the long run, a good investment. Even if we can't, a PC can be reborn into a new life." And Greg B. notes, "The drivers from XP don't work with Win7. So far all my Vista drivers do, so I see no benefit to a direct upgrade. I saved my important files and then copied them to Win7 after install. Everything works."

I was a little surprised at the number of readers who threatened to switch to a Mac if there's no direct upgrade path from XP. The funny thing is that many of those same people complained about Microsoft's "heavy handed" tactics, so I'm not sure why they would want to go with a product that is even more proprietary than Windows (Apple won't even allow you to install their OS on hardware that you didn't buy from them).

Of course, not everyone feels that way. John J. said, "As for the upgrade path: MS is a business. They put out a product. If you don't like it, too bad, don't buy it. They're in it to make money, they don't 'owe' anybody anything. They're going far enough with the XP to 7 license. It's time for all these lazy, whiny people to stop trying to freeload of MS and grow up." Wow. Some strong feelings on both sides of this issue.

Regardless of which position you take (and I can understand the points of both), I enjoyed reading all your opinions and thank all of you who wrote on this topic.

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

PS: Did you know this newsletter has a sister publication called VistaNews? You can subscribe here, and tell your friends:

And for IT pros, there's our "big sister," WServer News, at

Quotes of the Week

The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra. - Jimmy Johnson

See everything, overlook a great deal; correct a little. - Pope John XXIII

(In honor of St. Patrick's Day): Never iron a four-leaf clover, because you don't want to press your luck. - Author unknown

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 Cool Tools

Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without


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 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

XP free support deadline is coming up fast

As if income tax day weren't bad enough, there's another deadline coming up next month, on April 14, that will have some folks groaning. That's when Microsoft officially drops mainstream support for Windows XP. Although security updates will still be provided until 2014, non-security bug fixes won't, unless you want to pay for them. Read more here:

Social Desktop: Is this the future of computing?

Social networking is one of the biggest buzzwords in the tech industry today - but what if you could bring all the sharing abilities of a social network site right to your desktop? Microsoft Research's Social Desktop does just that, so that you can share your pictures, documents, etc. without having to copy or upload them to another location. To me, the security implications are a little scary, and that would have to be addressed, but what with the push toward the "cloud," I wouldn't be surprised if this eventually became the computing model of the next generation. Read more here:

Samsung says SSDs will be as cheap as traditional hard drives

Solid state drives offer a number of advantages over traditional platter-based hard disks: they're smaller, they're faster and they're less prone to failure due to the lack of moving parts. But the big reason we aren't all using them is that right now, they cost far more. A quick check of Newegg shows several models of 80 GB SATA hard drives for under $40. The least expensive 80 GB SSD is $363. That's quite a difference. But a representative of Samsung, which makes both, recently opined that the two will reach price parity within the next few years. Read more here:

How to customize the volume controls in XP

When you double click the Volume icon in the XP system tray, it opens up the Volume Control box, which consists of a number of sliders. It's a large box that takes up a lot of room. If you want to cut it down to size, you can display a smaller version by pressing CTRL+S. And if there are some sliders that you never use, you can remove them. Here's how:
  1. In the top menu bar, click Options, then Properties.
  2. In the section labeled "Show the following volume controls," scroll down and uncheck the ones you don't want to see. You can also add controls that don't currently display.
  3. Click OK.

 How To: Using XP Features

How to customize the volume controls in XP

When you double click the Volume icon in the XP system tray, it opens up the Volume Control box, which consists of a number of sliders. It's a large box that takes up a lot of room. If you want to cut it down to size, you can display a smaller version by pressing CTRL+S. And if there are some sliders that you never use, you can remove them. Here's how:
  1. In the top menu bar, click Options, then Properties.
  2. In the section labeled "Show the following volume controls," scroll down and uncheck the ones you don't want to see. You can also add controls that don't currently display.
  3. Click OK.

 XP Security News

Conflicker keeps on coming - and getting nastier all the time

The Conficker worm is a little like one of those B movie monsters. It seems you can't kill it; it just keeps on rising up from the dead, and in a new iteration that's even more vicious than the one before. The latest variant, Conficker.C, turns off security services and blocks your computer from connecting to security web sites to try to prevent you from removing it. And it has an "April Fool" surprise in store, too. Read more about the latest developments here:

 XP Question Corner

System Restore quit working

I can't use System Restore anymore. If I try to start it, I get an error message that says "System Restore has encountered a problem and needs to close." I could use System Restore before and it was a great feature. How do I fix it? Thanks! - Edward T.

It sounds as if System Restore may have gotten corrupted. You can try reinstalling the feature. Here's how:
  1. In Control Panel or Windows Explorer, click Folder Options and then the View tab.
  2. Under Advanced Settings, scroll down and find "Show hidden files and folders." Check the box.
  3. Find "Hide extensions for known files types." Uncheck that box.
  4. Click Apply, OK.
  5. In Windows Explorer, find your Windows folder (usually on the C: drive but not always). Navigate to the inf folder and open it.
  6. Find a file named sr.inf
  7. Right click the file and select Install.
Important: this creates a new installation of System Restore, but it will delete any restore points that you had created previously.

 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

Explorer.exe command line options

You probably already know that you can open Windows Explorer from the command line using explorer.exe. But did you know there are also some options (switches) that you can use to cause Explorer to open with a specific file, folder or program selected, or to open a window view of a specified object? Find out how to use these in KB article 314853 at

 Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: WXPNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

 Product of the Week

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 About WXPnews

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